Nostalgia: A Novel
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**Washington Post Best 50 Books of the Year**
This stunning Civil War novel from best-selling author Dennis McFarland brings us the journey of a nineteen-year-old private, abandoned by his comrades in the Wilderness, who is struggling to regain his voice, his identity, and his place in a world utterly changed by what he has experienced on the battlefield.
In the winter of 1864, Summerfield Hayes, a pitcher for the famous Eckford Club, enlists in the Union army, leaving his sister, a schoolteacher, devastated and alone in their Brooklyn home. The siblings, who have lost both their parents, are unusually attached, and Hayes fears his untoward secret feelings for his sister. This rich backstory is intercut with scenes of his soul-altering hours on the march and at the front—the slaughter of barely grown young men who only days before whooped it up with him in a regimental ball game; his temporary deafness and disorientation after a shell blast; his fevered attempt to find safe haven after he has been deserted by his own comrades—and, later, in a Washington military hospital, where he finds himself mute and unable even to write his name. In this twilit realm, among the people he encounters—including a compassionate drug-addicted amputee, the ward matron who only appears to be his enemy, and the captain who is convinced that Hayes is faking his illness—is a gray-bearded eccentric who visits the ward daily and becomes Hayes’s strongest advocate: Walt Whitman. This timeless story, whose outcome hinges on friendships forged in crisis, reminds us that the injuries of war are manifold, and the healing goodness in the human soul runs deep and strong.
them were at each other on the ground. In an instant all were involved, disengaging Leggett and the other soldier, whose companions retrieved his weapon and hat and soon led him away into the darkness. Throughout the brief skirmish, no words had been exchanged. Also without a word, Leggett collected himself, put on his shoes, retrieved the skull from the ground, and moved off into the woods clutching it to his chest. The three others stood staring in the direction where Leggett had disappeared.
when the players changed sides, the low rumble of fun among the spectators took on a ragged cadence that soon gave birth to a chant: Hayes Hayes Hayes Hayes Hayes Hayes Hayes … Hayes stood and tried to wave the crowd into submission, but they would have none of it. Aware that the match was in its final chapter, they wanted to see him in the game. The colonel signaled for Hayes to come forward for a word. He greeted Hayes with arched eyebrows and a kind of knowing smile that Hayes thought
grateful smile, which seems satisfying enough to Walt. Hayes helps with the tidying up and then heads with the basin to the water closet to empty it. The towel has been rinsed and wrung in the basin, and as Hayes moves along the aisle he studies his whiskers floating in the soapy mixture—circles and arcs and black smudges among the bubbles—and something about the sight of them wafting to and fro causes his hands to start shaking. The certain knowledge that he’s about to be at the center of a
two steps forward and back. A second bullet struck the forehead of the horse, whose front legs buckled, catapulting the officer headfirst over the poll: a rag doll, an unseemly heap, buttressed by a sword. Third and fourth bullets struck the horse in the breast, and it shuddered and fitfully pivoted its hindquarters in an arc, so that when at last it collapsed, the full weight of its girth flattened the lieutenant colonel to the ground. The beast’s long and final expiration sent dry leaves
to an Irishman I met from Pennsylvania.” “Now, what in the world did you do that for?” said Billy. “You might’ve saved it for me, Hayes. My grandpa was half Irish.” “He was wounded, Billy,” said Hayes, solemnly, for—as it was the first reference to the day’s combat—he felt perhaps he’d taken a liberty. Swift said, “I overheard some fellows talking about somebody with your same name being killed, and I feared the worst, Hayes … that they were talking about you. Turned out they meant the